Pro Football Hall of Fame aiming for growth

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is having their first Fan Fest this year, in hopes of being more accessible for fans.

General view of the Pro Football Hall of Fame before the 2013 Hall of Fame Game at Fawcett Stadium.

Kirby Lee / USA TODAY Sports

Dave Baker didn't ease into his job as the Executive Director at the Pro Football Hall of Fame gently. When he started in early January, the process of selecting the Class of 2014 was already in high gear.

It hasn't slowed down since. With enshrinement weekend less than three months away, the Hall is holding its first Fan Fest on Saturday and Sunday at Cleveland's I-X Center. Plans for Fan Fest were well underway when Baker was hired but sees the potential for the event not just beyond this year.

With 100 Hall of Famers in attendance, it will be the largest gathering outside of Canton. It also gives fans more of an opportunity to get autographs and interact with them than they might usually get during an enshrinement weekend. There will be eight autograph sessions and Hall of Famers will also discuss next week's NFL Draft in Chalk Talk sessions.

There will also be a gallery of the bronze busts of Hall of Famers and a clinic involving local college and high school teams will be held on a regulation football field. Terry Bradshaw will also perform his one-man show twice on Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

"It's the opportunity to have an NFL convention for fans. If you love the game it is a unique opportunity," Baker said.

There will be two separate sessions each day -- 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4-9 p.m. Ticket information is available on the Hall's website.

In seeing the potential for Fan Fest in the future, Baker compared it to ComicCon in how it could grow.

After celebrating their 50th anniversary and completing a multi-year expansion project last year, the Hall's next project is promoting itself as not just a museum to pro football's past but as a message of what it means to attain excellence.

"What I love about the Hall is it is about a guy's character and what they represent," Baker said. "It's not really just about a museum for football but really about a message of excellence for everyone."

Some of those messages are being conveyed in the Hometown Hall of Fame program. Cris Carter was honored last year in Middletown and a plaque of the late Paul Brown was dedicated two years ago in Massillon.

About the only thing Baker wasn't prepared for was a harsh winter in Northeast Ohio. He laughed when he said that one of his early lessons of living up here was finding out that a car door can freeze when it is minus 16 outside. But Baker has also enjoyed getting to know business leaders in the Akron/Canton area as well as learning about the logistics of conducting everything related to the Enshrinement Festival.

After Fan Fest, planning for the enshrinement will accelerate. There are also plans for more specials on NFL Network in order to give more of a view into the selection process. Some of that began in February when a camera was allowed in the room for the first time during the selection meeting. Baker is also looking ahead to five years from now when the NFL will have its 100th season. With the NFL being born in Canton, it will be a great opportunity to showcase the area and the Hall.

Said Baker about that milestone: "We've got a chance not only to honor the game but impact the rest of the nation. It is something that I'm excited about."

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